The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

I’d been meaning to read The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street since it came out in 2017, but somehow hadn’t gotten around to it, despite the fact that this style of middle-grade novel is totally my jam. If you like Elizabeth Enright’s books about the Melendy family, or Jeanne Birdsall’s books about the Penderwicks, you will probably like this book too—and this book is a great pre-Christmas read, if that’s something you’re currently looking for.

When the book opens, it’s December 20th and the Vanderbeekers are all “gathered in the living room for a family meeting”: their parents have some bad news to deliver, which is that their landlord, Mr. Beiderman (who lives on the top floor of the building where the Vanderbeekers have been living for the past several years) has declined to renew their lease, which means they need to move by the end of the month. The five kids (four girls and a boy, ranging in age from four-and-three-quarters to twelve years old) are dismayed: they love their home, and their Harlem neighborhood (which is where their dad grew up, too) and they definitely do not want to move. And so the plot is set in motion: Isa, who’s twelve, says it plainly: “I figure we have until Christmas to convince the Beiderman to let us stay.” But how can they convince a man who seems to dislike kids and noise (and who hasn’t left his apartment in six years) to keep their big (and sometimes raucous) family (complete with a Basset Hound, a cat, and a house rabbit) on as tenants?

Without saying much more about the plot, I will say this book is totally charming. It made me grin a lot, and also made me teary-eyed more than once. I love all the kids and their personalities. The oldest kids are twin sisters Isa and Jessie—one of whom loves playing the violin, the other of whom loves science. Then there’s Oliver, who’s nine: he likes basketball and reading. Hyacinth, who is six, loves animals and making things (whether that’s sewing or knitting or making things out of cardboard or paper or making peanut butter dog treats, with her mom’s help). And then there’s Laney, who loves people and also loves her pet rabbit. (I was not surprised to read a bio that described the author of this book as living “in Harlem with her husband, two daughters, dog, cat, and house rabbit”: from the way she describes Laney’s rabbit as “hopping in bizarre patterns around the living room carpet, periodically flinging himself into the air and spinning as if auditioning for a Broadway show” and then describes watching the rabbit “nibble on a stack of books,” I strongly suspected she was writing from personal experience of living with a bunny.)

I borrowed this book from my mother-in-law, who recently bought (and read) the whole series—I borrowed the rest of the books, too, and I’m excited to read them all.






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